The eye of the outsider, at the Tel Aviv Fashion Week
Photographer Mahesh Shantaram visits the Israeli capital's fifth fashion week, and brings back images that the flashbulbs glossed over
In Mahesh Shantaram, the Gindi Tel Aviv Fashion Week found someone who was really looking at it— looking at the nooks and crannies of its backstage area; looking at the people who were looking at the clothes on display; and looking also—as most journalists don’t—at his peers. “Everyone present at the show was a fashionista. Everything they wore was a statement or expression of some sort…everybody, that is, except me," he says.
The Bengaluru-based photographer, and recipient of the 2011 Sony World Photography Award, travelled as part of a group of international journalists at the invitation of the Israeli consulate to cover the fifth iteration of the event, which took place in March.
By his own admission, the photographs in this series convey very little information. They are devoid of context. And most frames have no ramps, models, brands, or details of the clothes or accessories being showcased. Instead, the pictures record the overlooked minutiae of a glamorous world steeped in deliberately articulated fashion.
Shantaram had a tight itinerary before the fashion week began. He was taken on a guided tour of the city’s prominent sites. Despite this, “the trip to Israel was incomplete", says the photographer. “What we saw was a very Jewish Israel. (But) it is a fact that many Arabs also live there, and I’d like to go back to see much more of the Old City, for instance."
Here is a look at what Shantaram saw while in Tel Aviv, and what the people he saw there were seeing—in his own words.
All eyes on the camera: I was clear that I absolutely did not want to sit in the photographers’ booth. I would only get the very standard photograph from that vantage—viewers on both sides, a model sashaying down the ramp in the centre, giving me that (deadpan) look. I wanted to move around and immerse myself in the event. I wanted to be an insider at the venue and the event, though I am a total outsider to the industry.
When I started moving around, I found the viewers of the show fascinating. Everything that people wore or carried was a well-articulated expression. This phone, for instance, belonged to a Japanese lady who was sitting next to me.
A welcome scene: This is at the Wailing Wall, or Western Wall, a sacred spot for Jews. When I reached, I was welcomed by a scene of what looked like hundreds of Hasidic Jews in prayer or contemplation. I’d never seen so many people even in popular pictures of this place.
From way, way back: I was curious about backstage, which was off-bounds, but by the last day I had become friends with some people at the show and so I somehow winged my way in.
I was waiting by the curtains—which are in themselves visually arresting with the silhouettes—for someone interesting to emerge.
Out of the ramp and into a tub: One particular event of the Fashion Week here was kept top secret, so much so that neither the security staff nor the media manager was able to tell us what to expect.
What greeted us as the doors opened was quite a spectacle. Half-a-dozen bathtubs, with models in each, bathing in what was supposed to look like milk. This was how jewellery and accessory brand Keren Wolf chose to exhibit their collection—inspired by Cleopatra’s donkey-milk bath and beauty routine.
For me, this was a show-stealer. It was most impressive, in terms of its presentation, lighting and design.
Seeing red: I was drawn to all the red tones on this fellow journalist.
Here’s looking at you: On the first day of sightseeing, we went to the place where the Last Supper is believed to have taken place.
Everyone in this picture is a fashion journalist. It was fun to turn the lens on them for a change.